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Friday, October 25, 2013

"In the Land of Blue Burqas" by Kate McCord Book Review

In "Land of the Blue Burqas" American aid worker Kate McCord (a protective pseudonym) describes Afghanistan as a country built around hating and destroying female human life, a society not very loving of male humans, either. McCord was in Afghanistan to provide Afghans with necessary skills they lack: literacy, business acumen and health services (86). She lived in Afghanistan for five years, speaking Dari, a local language, and wearing Afghan clothes. Her insights are penetrating, valuable, and politically incorrect.

Afghans are not allowed to know the truth of either Judaism or Christianity. Possession of a bible can get them killed. Afghans, like other Muslims, say they believe in Jesus, but they reject the Jesus of the New Testament and believe in an invented Jesus who never died on a cross, will return with a sword and decapitate Christians (66).

McCord introduces her Afghan interlocutors to the historical Jesus of the New Testament. Jesus astounds Afghans. They are totally unused to wisdom, compassion, and love as attributes of God. When McCord manages to explain Jesus to a group of Afghans, one states, "You have a beautiful God" (118). Two Afghan women, following Christian teaching, pray to forgive men who had violated them (137, 143). One Afghan woman's entire life improves when, with Christian teaching, she learns to be grateful (255). These are the most moving passages in the book.

An Afghan woman must end her friendship with McCord because no good Muslim would marry her four daughters if their mother befriended a Christian (168). Even when, at her own expense, McCord attempts to rescue an unwanted female child from parents who are quite consciously starving their own daughter to death, the parents will not allow McCord to rescue their daughter (281).

After years of her selfless development work in Afghanistan, Afghans still wanted to murder McCord. "We are not Muslims if we allow you to live here." If McCord's Christian example caused Muslims to reject Islam, "we must kill you" (196-7). After five years of work, feeding widows and orphans (290), McCord was forced to leave Afghanistan.

McCord outlines with crystalline clarity why Afghanistan is such a destructive place for women and girls, but for men and boys, too. Afghans have built a spiritual and mental prison camp around rigid worship of an unloving and irrational God. The religious worldview of Afghans creates a tense, grim reality.

Afghans do not say, nor do they believe, that God loves them, or that God is love (105 - 6). In contrast to the Judeo-Christian tradition, Allah is not the "father" of children he loves (242-3). To Afghans, the idea of God as a father is blasphemy.

Afghans pray a prepared script in Arabic – a foreign language they do not understand – five times a day. Prayer as Christians understand it is strange to them. Going to God in one's own language, in one's own spontaneous words, is unacceptable. God does not care about the details of human lives and doesn't want to hear about them in prayer (251- 2). Afghans understand their faith as ordering them to be unrelentingly violent: "In Islam, if anyone insults or hurts you, you must respond with ten times the force" (157).

Reading the Koran in Arabic, which Afghans do not speak or understand, is a magical process. Muslims gain "sawah" heavenly credit deposits – from reading words they don't understand (228). An Afghan who translated the Koran into Dari, the local language, was jailed. Only mullahs or otherwise authorized personnel may write out verses from the Koran (232).

Muslims gain sawah from fasting during Ramadan. If a woman is menstruating, she is unclean; Allah will not accept her prayers or her fast. She must wait till menstruation is done and fast. Older women fast many days to compensate for lost sawah. Otherwise, they may not be able to enter heaven.

Muslims will kill all Jews. Rocks and trees will warn Muslims that Jews are hiding behind them because "even the natural world is against the Jews." Jews are "beyond redemption…even if they convert to Islam, still they cannot be saved…God has ordered the nation of Islam to annihilate the Jews" (66-7). Jews changed the Torah; nothing in it is true (69). During Friday prayer, Muslims pray to convert or kill non-Muslims (75). Afghans describe Americans as "black hearted, evil, and cruel" (13).

Gender apartheid is absolute in Afghanistan. Women don't go to mosques. McCord knew hundreds of women; none had set foot in a mosque in their adult lives. Women are virtual prisoners in their homes. Afghan men know exactly what heaven will be like. Men will be issued seventy virgins who regain their virginity even after penetration. There will be delicious food (23). Afghan women receive no such promises of heaven (24). Women use no names; only title as "mother of" or "wife of" this or that male, who does have a name.

When asked, "What was the happiest day of your life?" Afghan men often answer with the day they acquired their first wife. When asked "What is the saddest day of your life?" Afghan women often answer, "The day I married my husband" (37). Afghan women say of one man taking many wives, "We hate it" (48).

Following the example of Mohammed, who married his favorite wife, Aisha, when he was over fifty and Aisha was six, men often marry children. Afghan girls are often married off between 11 and 13. Sex is required even of pre-pubescent wives. A mother calls her own twenty-year-old daughter "old and ugly." This twenty-year-old had already been pregnant four times. "A girl is most beautiful at 13 and should be married then" (51).

Any woman who travels anywhere beyond her gate on her own, without a male chaperone, is "unclean" because "the nature of woman is crooked always" (176- 7). If a woman's voice is heard by a man to whom she is not related, he will have to rape her, and it will be her fault. She must be punished (182).

Muslims who do study Western ways in order to advance their own nations must not internalize any Western values, which are all evil. All Christians are evil (189). One student reports, "I will learn English and I will teach infidels to be Muslims" (194).

Again, the insights this book offers are brave and clear. For all that, I cannot recommend this book. It desperately needed editing. It is thuddingly repetitious. Too, McCord's commitment to a bogus anonymity – she provides enough detail to identify herself to anyone who knew her – dulls her accounts.

1 comment:

  1. In my opinion I think Blue Burqas is a really bad representation of Afghanistan. The author often paints the image for the reader that life of women in Afghanistan is so bad when that is not necessarily true. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone because as a Christian I was very dissapointed and somewhat irritated at the author's narrow mindness. The way she depicts the Muslims is degrading.To me her view of "I'm right your wrong" makes the book a waste of time.